After the congregation sang a pair of beautiful Christmas hymns, Brooke Shannon talked about what God has been doing in her life this past year in a ministry moment. Her sharing was all the more powerful because the only Brooke we have seen publicly seems to be a bright-spirited, cheerful leader in our church family. This morning she allowed us to see through the windows into her heart and what it meant to lose her home in a house-fire 15 months ago.
Brooke began by sharing that there's one word that came to mind when she thought about this matter: Home.
To put things into a bigger context, she stated that she has moved 27 times in her life. When she lost her house, and her wedding dress, she had three things she was grateful she did not lose: her family, her faith and her church. Now that they've moved into the new house they built, she shared how this word is an acronym for the lessons she learned.
H... Humility What I have is not mine.
O... Ongoing The journey doesn't end. There will be more trials or victories.
M... Maturity A deepening knowledge of God
Brooke shard her low point this past year. "Honey, should we just move?" But then she recognized that they have been called to this community. It was a very powerful message.
During the offering Brad mentioned that normally the church does not take an offering during the Christmas service, but that tomorrow an offering will be taken to support the missional commitments of the Covenant churches here and abroad. After a time of prayer, Pastor Shannon delivered the sermon.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matt 1:18-19)
Our English translations of the Bible vary, but the original word that the NIV translated "was faithful to the law" is translated "a righteous man" which still fails to fully convey the meaning of the word. The word here is "sadiq" which means "uncompromising obedience to the Torah."
A sadiq was one who did what was right. He kept the Sabbath and all the laws. He was someone people looked up to so that his identity was associated with this honorable behavior. This is why it was an exceptionally problematic situation when he learned the woman to whom he was betrothed was now pregnant, and he himself had not had anything to do with it.
Joseph's identity was associated with being a righteous man. The problem is, the letter of the law would require that he make her sin public. This was a stoning-level offense. His reputation was on the line in how he handled this.
When Mary explained the situation to Joseph, that she was "with child" but that she had not been with any man, that this was God's child, Joseph did not initially believe it. This was just too much, and he undoubtedly experience great anxiety as her wrestled with what to do. He'd already decided to divorce her quietly when an angel came to him with words of comfort and instruction.
It's interesting here that God allowed Joseph to experience this anguish while his world was being turned upside down.
At this point several things became clear in Joseph's mind. First, by taking Mary back as his wife, he was about to lose his reputation (as a righteous man, as a sadiq.) Second, if he married a pregnant girl his life would never be the same. Third, his identity as a sariq would be lost.
But the angel said, "Don't be afraid." And Joseph brought Mary home to him.
Brad pointed out an interesting detail from the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 6 it is noted that Jesus had four brothers, named after the Patriarchs of Israel. In verse 3, there is a reference to Jesus as "the son of Mary." At the time, and through most of history, the designation for sons would be as sons of their fathers. Being a small town, it would appear the lost reputation of Joseph continued, and when it says in verse 4, "they took offense at him" it was tantamount to calling him a "son of a ___."
Could this upbringing be one more reason Jesus had a heart for the downtrodden, the rejected, the women who had been stained, because he saw that his father was this kind of man who demonstrated a new kind of righteousness, based on mercy and compassion.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, "Unless your righteousness passes that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law" -- the old system -- "you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus must have been thinking inside, I've seen the better kind of righteousness firsthand; my father was such a man.
When Joseph made the decision to wed Mary, he thought it was the end of his being known as a righteous man. He did not know fully that the child he would adopt would bring to the human race a new kind of righteousness. That is what we're celebrating this Christmas.